In a tense cold open Arthur, John, Michael and Polly are unexpectedly dragged from their prison cells after an overly zealous judge brings forward their executions. As the nooses are tightened around their necks, Tommy manages to come through for them, effectively blackmailing the King with articles of the monarch’s correspondence that had come into his possession to secure their reprieves and releases, and also cheekily bagging himself an OBE in the process.
Fast forward a year and everyone is still reeling from that near miss with the Grim Reaper. Tommy has almost completely cut himself off from the rest of the family, spending his time in a Birmingham hotel and enjoying whiskey sours and working his way through the city’s prostitutes, whilst Lizzie Stark acts as his PA/babysitter and implores him to attend a New Year family gathering; advice he refuses to heed. Meanwhile, Arthur is living a staid and rather dull existence out on a farm with Linda and his new son, whilst John continues his cycle of fighting and f*cking with Esme, and shooting at things on the land surrounding his own countryside abode. Things have hit Polly particularly hard however, and as result of her reliance on the pills she was given in prison and whiskey, she’s begun to have ‘visitations’ by the dead. Dealing with her troubling behaviour has fallen on Michael’s shoulders, who has himself turned to cocaine to deal with his brush with death, but continues to work for Tommy in the legitimate side of the business. A conversation with his cousin leads to him attempting to appease his Mother by telling her believes the visions she’s seeing are real and trying to move her onto champagne rather than whiskey, then later him getting rid of the drugs she’s become addicted to. In both instances, Polly recognises Tommy has advised her son to take this drastic action and rails against him.
In the end it falls to Ada to smooth over familial relations after travelling back from Boston for the family party. Subsequent to clashing with Esme over her continuing involvement with the American arm of Shelby Ltd, she’s enduring another awkward conversation with Linda at her and Arthur’s smallholding when the phone rings. At the other end is a fraught Tommy who, on opening his mail back at his estate, realises he’s been served ‘The Black Hand’ by Luca Changretta, the son and brother of Angel and Vicente, who were killed in the aftermath of Grace’s murder last series, and realises his life is in grave danger. Soon enough, his older brother also goes through his mail and sees that he too has been served by the American mobster, who we’ve already seen entering the country with some of his cohorts. Not wanting to involve Linda, Arthur and Ada discuss what to do our of earshot and she ends up giving him her gun, before heading over to Tommy’s home and then being instructed to warn Polly and Michael that they too are in mortal peril, arriving just in time to prevent her Aunt from going into a complete meltdown.
Trying to keep things as normal as possible for his young son on Christmas Eve, Tommy nevertheless remains on edge, and it’s this unease that leads him to question why his Chef insists on getting the housekeeper to find out the exact time that he and Johnny Dogs and family intend to sit down for their Christmas lunch. After pouring over his new Italian employee’s references and listening to Mary’s concerns about his sous chef, Tommy heads down to the kitchens to investigate. Once there, he sees the said second-in-command peeling potatoes and hands over a ten pound note for ‘overtime’, barely soliciting a reaction. Sensing that something isn’t right, Tommy meanders into the cold store where his chef is preparing the meat for the meal the day after, engaging in small talk before outright confronting him about his links to his old foe, Darby Sabini. It’s then the man admits he was told to take on ‘Antonio’ as his sous chef, and so Tommy forces him to call the covert mafia man into the store. With the other guy approaching with a gun, the head of the Shelby gang waits behind the door with a meat hook, launching it into his chest when he enters the room and brawling with him, eventually getting the better of him and executing him at close range with his own gun after he refuses to tell him if there are already other mafia members in the country. Getting Johnny Dogs to deal with the body and leave it somewhere as a message, Tommy realises he needs move his family back to where they are safest and surrounded by loyal ‘soldiers’: Small Heath.
Prior to leaving his estate, he manages to get hold of Arthur and urge him and Linda to come back ‘home’, but John and Esme sleep through his attempts to get in touch with them, leaving Michael tasked with warning them the following morning. Approaching their house, he narrowly passes by a cart filled with hay bales, and then pleads with his defiant cousin to come back to Birmingham and seek refuge with the rest of the family. Just as Esme joins in the argument, informing Michael that she and John don’t need them, the cart stops right in front of the house and mobsters push the bales out of the way, taking aim at John as Michael pushes Esme back into the house. Outgunned, the duo are cut down and are presumably dead.
Amidst all of the family drama, Tommy also comes face to face with a different kind of foe altogether in the form of Jessie Eden, the communist trade unionist who doesn’t mince her words. At a meeting where she voices her concerns about him not paying the female wire cutters the same as he pays their male counterparts at another factory Shelby Ltd covertly owns they verbally spa, and she warns him in no uncertain terms not to underestimate her ability to bring her comrades out on strike, leaving him fighting another ‘war’ in relation to the legitimate arm of his business.
When you find yourself teetering on the edge of your seat during an episode of Peaky Blinders, it’s usually been a good one. When it happens twice you’ve been in for a treat. A third time? Well, you know you’ve been plain spoilt! What a ride this Series 4 opener was, from most of the Shelby family nearly being wiped out at the end of the hangman’s noose in those nail-biting opening scenes; to Tommy realising a member of the American mafia had infiltrated his household and the ensuing, gruesome fight between them; and finally that fateful gunfight that appears to have seen off both Michael and John. I’d love it to be the case that either one, or both, of the cousins have survived that spray of bullets. John’s often provided some much needed comic relief in the show, as exemplified in this episode when he was packing more weapons than Rambo and Esme remarked that he was ‘Father f*cking Christmas’. Michael has grown on me as well after a rather shaky start, chiefly because he’d started to really care for his Mother, Polly. I just don’t see how their survival is possible, however, and I can understand why Steven Knight would want to rock the Shelbys on their axis once and for all. Up until now, and apart from Grace’s murder, they’ve remained relatively unscathed, with John especially walking a dangerous path for a long time. Creating new vacancies within the ‘family business’ opens up opportunities for fresh blood, and has the potential to breathe new life into a series that might be starting to show signs of wear otherwise.
It wasn’t just the explosive moments that impressed either. Tommy’s interactions with Lizzie and his son, Charlie, gave further insight into a man we don’t necessarily have to like, but who we nevertheless still find ourselves rooting for. (God, I wish he didn’t treat Lizzie so badly though. That woman deserves a medal for putting up with him.) My heart seems to break for Polly every series as well, and this first installment only confirmed that it’s going to happen again. If Michael really is dead, then it’s hard to imagine how she’ll cope with the loss amidst her alcohol and drug addiction. Let’s just hope Ada plans to stick around for a while. She’s the voice of reason that the rest of the family need right now. To tell the truth, I’m quite pleased that Arthur didn’t bite the bullet alongside his younger brother. I’m really enjoying Paul Anderson in the role as he walks the tightrope between pleasing Linda, and hanging onto elements of who he really is under that religious conversion and banal existence. I suspect we’ll see the old Arthur peeking through the facade in the coming weeks. Tommy needs him, and so will the rest of the family.
My only real niggle was them telegraphing Jessie Eden as Tommy’s new love interest. From what I’ve seen so far, I really like the sass of the character and the approach Charlie Murphy has taken with the role. I enjoyed her clash with ‘Mr Shelby’ as well, and can fully believe he’s completely underestimated how much of problem she going to be for him, nevertheless that ‘spark’ between them was a little too obvious. Still, subtlety has never been Peaky Blinders‘ strong point.
Danielle’s Fezzy Score:
So what did you think to the series opener? Let us know in the comments…